After the Disaster – How to Stay Safe

Every disaster takes a toll in the form of loss. Some losses are minor, and can be repaired or replaced quickly, such as a broken fence. Some are major, requiring considerable time and expense to fix, such as a collapsed bridge. Some cannot be replaced or fixed, such as the loss of a life. During and after any incident, the safety of you and your family is of paramount importance.

In the wake of the initial event, these tips can help keep you safe:

  • Stay informed about changing conditions.
  • Heed the advice of local officials.
  • Do not return to your home or business until it has been deemed safe by an appropriate authority.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines, road damage, broken gas lines and other hazards.
  • If the power is out, use flashlights rather than candles, and unplug electronic devices.
  • Avoid driving (for your own safety and to keep roads clear for emergency vehicles).

Recovering from an emergency of any kind takes time, effort and resources. Just as preparation and planning are key elements to the initial response to an emergency, so they are of primary significance to recovery.

Properly insuring your property is the best way to know you will have the financial resources to repair, rebuild, or replace what is damaged or lost. And having appropriate documentation in hand can make all the difference in how quickly and correctly your needs are met. 

What information would you need, whether you have to evacuate, or are able to stay in your home? In addition to insurance policies and credit card and banking information, you will want an inventory of your property and other assets. Documents can be stored in a number of ways, including on a flash drive or printed. Some people keep duplicates with friends or relatives.

Once the immediate danger is over, your continued safety and wellbeing may depend on your ability to cope with new circumstances, and you may need assistance. Resources to help with a variety of needs are made available by the jurisdiction where the event took place, such as a county, city or special district. Usually, the jurisdiction will host a recovery website and other means of communication to connect you with agencies that can help, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross and social services.

Many people think of recovery as the process of returning a community to normal. Recovery and rebuilding can be a lengthy process. And in some cases, things will never be the same, as seen in the Paradise wildfires.

In Santa Cruz County Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience is responsible for overseeing the coordinated county response to disasters, including the recovery process. And just as it is crucial for you to document your property, our office, the Department of Public Works, and all other agencies involved in recovery must diligently document and maintain records of everything that was done during the disaster response and recovery in order to receive the state or federal funding for which we are eligible. If we can’t produce documentation for something that was done during a disaster, whether it’s travel expenses for firefighters or repairing a dam, it’s as if it didn’t happen, and we will not be reimbursed. Final payments for the 1994 Northridge earthquake were just made two years ago, so you can see that the recovery process is a big responsibility that can be long and complex.

We hope that none of us experiences a disaster, but remember, Preparation is Power! Explore these resources for tools and ideas to prepare and protect yourself and your family.